Last week, we saw something unusual. Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey announced he would add his name to the list of co-sponsors of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, becoming only the eighth Republican to do so. He brought the new total for the pending legislation, which has already passed the Senate, to 205 co-sponsors – well within striking distance of the support needed to pass the GOP-led chamber.
Except, that won’t happen. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will not allow the House to vote up on down on ENDA, falsely claiming, “People are already protected in the workplace.”
With Republicans refusing to budge, the White House has been under pressure to issue an executive order. As of this afternoon, President Obama is prepared to do exactly that.
President Barack Obama has directed his staff to draft an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors, a White House official told The Huffington Post.The move is the clearest indication to date that the administration is prepared to take action on LGBT rights where Congress has fallen short. Notably, the official would not say whether the president will sign the order into law on Monday – suggesting the White House is leaking the news to warn lawmakers that they have a limited window to pass more sweeping workplace discrimination legislation before he acts without them.
A White House official told the Huffington Post that the president order, which is still being drafted, would “build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Just as an aside, I’d note that Vice President Biden hinted last month that this might happen, becoming the latest instance in which Biden accidentally telegraphed where the White House was headed.
For those who need a refresher on this debate, under federal law, employers can legally fire employees if they’re gay, or even if they think the employees are gay. Some states prohibit this kind of discrimination, but most don’t.
The proposed remedy has been the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Current law already prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, national origin, disability, or genetic information, but ENDA is needed to extend protections to include sexual orientation and sexual identity.
There’s ample evidence that most Americans believe LGBT Americans are already protected against employment discrimination, but those folks are mistaken.
With the House Republican leadership simply unwilling to even hold a vote, and with the odds of a Democratic takeover of the House very low, Obama was left with a choice: allow nothing to happen for the foreseeable future or issue an executive order. If Boehner won’t allow Congress to act, the president appears to prefer the latter.
Remember, however, that the executive order in this area, like a similar move on the minimum, wage, has a limited reach. Obama can’t apply ENDA’s goals to all employers, but he can ban discrimination among employers who do business with the federal government.
That’s a lot of people who are poised to benefit from new workplace protections, but in order to apply these rights to all Americans, Congress will still need to act on ENDA.
Obama will speak tomorrow at the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT gala in New York. I’d expect this topic to come up in his remarks.